Get Ready for Daydream!
The advent of high-quality Virtual Reality for the masses has officially begun with the arrival of the Google Pixel and Pixel XL “Daydream-ready” smartphones.
The Pixel is the first “Made by Google” phone offering with prices starting at $649 for the base model 32GB 5” Pixel and reaching as high as $869 for the 128GB 5.5” Pixel XL.
Not exactly within easy reach for individuals on a tight budget, however, Google is offering a two-year no-interest payment plan (for qualified buyers) when purchasing the phone directly from the Google Store, or through Google’s Project Fi service.
Verizon has been given exclusive rights to sell the Pixel through its stores in the US, and Verizon customers can purchase it on the standard 2-year no-interest payment plan.
The Pixel is available for purchase in India, Australia, Canada, Germany, Britain, and the United States.
To understand Google’s intentions with the Pixel and Pixel XL, think “Android version of the iPhone 7 and 7+ with best-in-class commodity hardware and a much smarter version of Siri”, and you’ll have the idea.
Google has taken a page from Apple in nearly every area of design and marketing for the Pixel, including: maintaining control over both hardware and software development; available in both Regular and Plus/XL sizes;
excellent build quality; amazing camera; very smooth, lag-free UI; support for all carrier network bands in the US (check with your local carrier for compatibility outside of the US) requiring only a SIM card for activation on your desired mobile network; continuously updated without carrier involvement or bloatware (though Verizon-sold Pixel phones will receive the same updates from Verizon and come with a handful of Verizon apps which can be easily uninstalled); as well as a direct-to-consumer sales model with interest-free financing available.
Of course, you also get all of the awesome features that make Android so popular, such as: highly customizable UI, Google Assistant (a more conversational version of Google Now), Seamless Updates (a new feature in Android 7.1), split-screen viewing, app sideloading, tight integration with all Google products and, of course, Daydream VR mode!
Oh, and a headphone jack. 😀
Daydream VR Mode
Daydream VR is now baked into the Android OS with the release of version 7.1, and will automatically come to life when the phone is placed in Google’s new Daydream View VR headset.
The Daydream View is lightweight and comfortable enough to wear for extended periods of time, and comes with a 9-axis controller similar to the Nintendo Wiimote to provide more natural interaction with VR applications by simply moving your hand to point, fire a weapon, wave a sword, swing a bat or just about any other activity a VR developer can dream up.
When the phone is placed in the Daydream View headset, Google VR Services will launch a new Google Play Store built for VR similar to the Oculus Play Store on the Gear VR platform. Games and apps can be installed directly from the
Play Store and launched from the Daydream UI. While in VR Mode, Google VR Services will provide a direct path to the processor cores for the VR game or app in the foreground to ensure that the images on the screen precisely match the user’s head and controller movements.
This should eliminate the nausea which can occur when the lag is perceptible to the human eye.
The View will be available for purchase from the Daydream website on Nov. 10th for $79 and has been offered as a free perk to those who pre-ordered a Pixel phone.
Google and their partners are hard at work developing a new generation of Daydream VR Android apps which will take advantage of the higher-end hardware in a new line of Daydream-ready phones that will soon be available from multiple phone manufacturers, including: Samsung, HTC, LG, Xiaomi, Huawei, ZTE, Asus and Alcatel. Daydream-Ready phones must meet a minimum spec which meets or exceeds that of the Google Pixel, including: a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, 4GB of RAM, high-grade motion sensors, and a QHD 2560×1440 display.
The Pixel XL is by far the fastest Android phone I’ve ever used. There is zero lag in any part of the UI, which I’ve never experienced before with an Android phone. Google engineers have made significant improvements in Android 7.1 to reduce screen latency to a sub-20 millisecond range to ensure smooth performance when using the phone in VR mode, and it definitely shows in every part of the UI.
Google will push OS updates to Pixel phones no matter which carrier network they are running on for the next two years, and security updates for the next three years.
The new Seamless Update feature makes it’s debut in the Pixel allowing updates to complete in the background with a single reboot of the phone similar to the Chromebook update process. This feature downloads the new firmware to a partition on the phone’s drive and then applies the new firmware at the next reboot without the annoying delays caused by the “Optimizing apps” process.
Google engineers state that Android OS 7.x is the most secure Android OS ever, and that it is on par with iOS in every area of security. There is a fingerprint sensor on the back that provides very quick and accurate fingerprint detection for added security during login, Android Pay transactions, and secure application login, as well as a new fingerprint sensor swipe option to quickly pull the notification bar up or down.
So, with one swipe of the finger, it’s possible to wake up the display, login securely and pull down the notification drawer (a very nice feature for those of us with thumb muscles over-extended from stretching to reach the notification bar on a 5.5” phone!).
The camera shutter speed is instantaneous and the picture quality is exceptional in nearly any lighting conditions, though pictures become a bit granulated in low light conditions. Google claims that it is “the best smartphone camera ever made” citing the fact that the Pixel has the highest DxOMark score ever given to a mobile phone. There are even several reports of Pixel owners creating professional-quality 4K photos and videos with their phones that compare to high-end professional recording cameras.
As a nice bonus, Pixel owners receive free unlimited full-resolution photo and video backups to the Google cloud using the included Google Photos app. With 4K photos and videos, that can quickly get into the range of several terabytes of cloud storage which would normally cost 10’s or even 100’s of dollars per month. The Pixel is an ideal solution for anyone wanting to shoot 4K photo and video on a tight budget.
Battery life is on par with most higher-end phones such as the S7 Edge and iPhone 7, and will typically last a full day with GPS turned off and average usage. The battery optimizations in Android 7 do an excellent job of keeping battery usage at a minimum when the phone isn’t being used heavily.
However, enabling High Accuracy Location services, playing videos and games, etc. will put you at 10% battery by early evening. Thankfully, quick charging provides another 3-7 hours (depending upon usage) of battery with a quick 15 minute charge. A full charge takes a little over an hour.
While the Pixel is indeed impressive, there are some noticeable omissions typically available in other flagship phones, such as: wireless charging, SD card slot, IP67 water resistance or even stereo speakers. No kidding, it has a single bottom-firing speaker for audio and speakerphone, plus a small speaker in the phone earpiece.
Sound quality is still pretty good though even with a single speaker, and most of us will be using wired or wireless headphones while listening to music, playing games or watching movies so this isn’t as big of a deal as it might seem.
Google Assistant is quite useful now, and should become much more useful over time. It’s a slightly smarter, more conversational version of Google Now, and is currently only available on the Pixel and the new Google Allo messaging application. Google Assistant responds to the standard “OK Google” command and can accurately respond to a large number of requests and commands such as: “Take a photo/selfie”, “Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening”, “Add [item] to my shopping list”, “Turn on/off WiFi, flashlight, etc.”, “Find a Chinese Restaurant within five miles?”, “When/where is my next appointment” and many others. It is also contextually aware and can provide meaningful responses to questions pertaining to a website or screen you have open on the phone.
Google Assistant remembers the subject of a “conversation” and can continue discussing a topic without the need to continually provide basic details (eg, person, place or thing). So, you might ask “What is Donald Trump’s birthday?”, then “What is his height?” and Google Assistant will know you are still asking about Donald Trump.
There are a number of similarly useful Assistant features built into the native Pixel (formerly Google Now) Launcher that will provide important and relevant information as you move throughout your day. For instance, while in a store, you might receive a notification with a discount or rebate you have hidden in your emails, or the most recent sales ads published online. If you’re searching for information on an item you found in a store, it can continue prompting with additional relevant details about the item until you select “No” to receiving any further information on that item.
If you have your appointments in Google Calendar, Google Maps will tell you when you need to leave to get to the appointment on time, and will even take into account the current traffic conditions on your route. Over time, this will become more and more intuitive, and should become a sort of “sixth sense” to your daily routine providing timely and relevant information that would be impossible to know without a great deal of time and effort.
Privacy vs. Convenience
Of course, some will rightly object to the privacy invasion this clearly represents as it becomes apparent that Google, now Alphabet, seems to know more about you than you know about yourself. There is certainly a trade-off between the loss of one’s privacy to an algorithm, versus having an “intelligent bot” that is continuously mining our personal data and scanning the Internet for relevant information that may be of benefit.
Ultimately there is little that we can do to dictate how our private details are being handled by any large company or organization once we give them access. We just have to hope that Google is living up to its motto to “Do the right thing” and is, in fact, doing the right things with our personal data. It is also possible to “Just say No,” and restrict Google’s access to personal information for those who don’t trust Google to do the right thing.
Personally, I derive a great deal of benefit from the intelligent Assistant features and am looking forward to seeing them grow and improve over time. If an intelligent iDroid is what you’re looking for in your next phone, then the Google Pixel might just be the phone for you.